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Sustainable Development: Representing a Reflexive Modernity Inside the United Nations

By Gregory Borne | 15 April 2010


 

Abstract
 
(SD) within the United Nations (UN) represents a paradigm shift from
first/industrial modernity to a reflexive modernity. Reflexive modernity
is defined by the changing nature of political structures in the face of
globalised environmental risk, as well as a questioning of the hegemony
of the scientific process as a basis for the development of humanity
and the planet. SD is a concept that innately reflects these concerns,
questioning normative assumptions. This paper will argue that the
rise of SD in governance discourse is not only a catalyst for a reflexive
modernity, but also is representative of a modernity that is already
in a state of reflexivity. This proposition is examined by exploring the

various ways that SD is utilised in the governance structure of

the

United Nations (UN).

This paper suggests that the discourse of sustainable development(SD) within the United Nations (UN) represents a paradigm shift from first/industrial modernity to a reflexive modernity. Reflexive modernityis defined by the changing nature of political structures in the face ofglobalised environmental risk, as well as a questioning of the hegemonyof the scientific process as a basis for the development of humanityand the planet. SD is a concept that innately reflects these concerns,questioning normative assumptions. This paper will argue that therise of SD in governance discourse is not only a catalyst for a reflexivemodernity, but also is representative of a modernity that is alreadyin a state of reflexivity. This proposition is examined by exploring the various ways that SD is utilised in the governance structure of theUnited Nations (UN).

 

Introduction

 

In light of the increasing scientific consensus of the detrimental impact humanity is having on the earth’s biosphere, the consequences of, and the possibility for curbing these risks have jumped dramatically onto the priority agendas both politically and academically. Within the social sciences the notion of an emerging World Risk Society (WRS), which has created a reflexive modernity represents this realignment, and in political domains the notion of sustainable development (SD) is being increasingly used to represent the need to realign current developmental patterns. This paper examines the possibility that SD and reflexive modernity are intimately connected. Until very recently these two concepts have been seen as representing different story lines of humanity’s interaction with nature. More recently however, there has been a paradigmatic shift in how these issues are being understood and notions of reflexivity and sustainable development are being drawn together in a mutually supportive framework. This relationship is currently underdeveloped and lacking rigorous empirical observation. This paper makes initial, but substantial, steps in addressing this short and proceeds in the following manner. The first section expands on the nature of reflexive modernity in the context of Beck’s WRS thesis. Section two will introduce SD, outline initial observations drawn from the literature and suggest a significant relationship between SD and reflexive modernity. Section three discusses the nature of governance and the role of the UN with relation to SD. Section four offers a review of the qualitative methodological approach that is used. Section five presents the substantive component of this paper by exploring the empirical data. The results are separated into three main areas of SD discourse from within the UN. Each area is represented by a ‘theme’ of SD, and each theme progressively builds a picture of the discursive representations of SD within the UN, and the relationship this has with a reflexive modernity. The paper is concluded with a brief discussion on the implications that these findings have at both a policy and theoretical level. Initially however, it is pertinent to outline the underlying theoretical premises upon which this paper is based.

 

 

 

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* Published in the First Issue of Journal of Global Analysis (JGA).

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